When life gives you lemons, you can make so much more than lemonade.
A sprinkling of zest over strawberry shortcake adds punch to the berries and cream, plus creates an appetizing feast for the eyes.
Add a squeeze or, better yet, chopped preserved lemons to broccoli, green beans or roasted asparagus and the kids might even ask for seconds. Fresh lemon juice mixed with mayonnaise makes a lighter dressing for summer salads.
And boring, flat chicken or lentil soup gets a boost from lemon juice stirred in at the end of cooking.
There's hardly a food on the planet that's not enhanced by the puckery bright flavor of lemon. From baked goods to pastas, soups to salads and on to all manner of fruits and vegetables, lemon is an amiable companion.
There has been a lot of hand-wringing lately about the price and scarcity of limes, but I find the lemon much more versatile. Margaritas notwithstanding. (By the way, both were three for $1.99 at the grocery store last week.)
For instance, lemon juice can revive wilting lettuce and a squeeze keeps cut apples from discoloring. Plain water bounces to life with a few slices of lemon, and benefits from the added bonus of vitamin C.
And, using lemon to enhance food might keep you from reaching for the salt shaker and thus reduce your sodium intake.
How much more convincing do you need?
Besides the recipes that accompany this story, here are other uses culinary uses of lemons:
Gremolata The Italian condiment is traditionally used on meat and seafood dishes, but it can also be added to vegetables. To make it, mix equal parts lemon zest, chopped parsley and minced garlic. The lemon and parsley will be less pronounced by reducing garlic and adding a bit of olive oil. It's best used immediately and at room temperature.
Preserved lemons These can last up to six months in the refrigerator. Chop and add to salads and vegetables. To make them, wash 8 to 10 lemons and cut them in half lengthwise, but not all the way through. Turn and cut again. (It's like you are cutting four wedges but keeping them attached at one end.) Pry them open a bit and sprinkle with a mixture of ½ cup kosher salt and a teaspoon of sugar. Pack into a quart jar with a lid, pressing down and pushing out some of the juice. Close jar and place in fridge; turn over every few days. Lemons will be ready in three weeks.
Marinades The acid in lemon juice helps to tenderize meat and enhances the flavor of poultry and seafood. To make Black Pepper Lemon Marinade, mix juice of 1 lemon, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 cloves minced garlic and a tablespoon of crushed black peppercorns. This is enough marinade for 2 whole chicken breasts or a couple of pounds of shrimp. (Leave chicken in the marinade for a few hours; shrimp not more than 1 hour.)
Vinaigrettes Vinegar is the common acid paired with olive oil in a simple vinaigrette, but you can substitute part of it with lemon juice. To make Lemon Poppy Seed Vinaigrette, whisk together 1 cup lemon juice (about 4 lemons), ¼ cup apple cider vinegar, ½ cup honey, ½ teaspoon poppy seeds and 2 teaspoons salt in medium-sized bowl. Continue to whisk, slowly adding ½ cup vegetable oil. Store in refrigerator.
Compound butter Flavored butters are delicious accompaniments with muffins and vegetables, especially grilled corn. To make Lemon-Herb Butter, bring 1 stick of butter to room temperature. Mix together ¼ cup of mixed leafy herbs (I like parsley and chives) plus 1 teaspoon of lemon zest. Finely chop and mix thoroughly with butter. Use immediately or cover and store in refrigerator.
Lemon cubes If you've got a glut of lemons, or a generous neighbor with a Meyer lemon tree, squeeze the juice into ice cube trays and freeze. After the cubes are frozen, transfer to a resealable bag and use in drinks or in any other dish in which you need lemon juice.
Grilled and fried If you're grilling fish or chicken, throw some thick lemon slices on the grate, too. The heat will intensify the flavors. Likewise, if you're deep-frying seafood, batter slices of lemon and fry those, too. You'll be pleasantly surprised at how wonderful the salty crust plays off the sour fruit.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8586. Follow her on Twitter at @roadeats.